It's time to complete my personal ranking of every animated Pixar feature. So without further ado, here are the final 13 films...
#12: Coco (2017) - dir. Lee Unkrich
Coco is a left field film from Pixar that counts as one of two films that helped keep Pixar’s reputation afloat during the 2010s, and rightfully so. Coco is a musical journey into Mexican culture with some of Pixar’s best visuals and emotional beats. Its only flaw is the somewhat flat humor, but when the rest of the film is so perfect, that doesn’t really drag it down. Coco’s vibrant atmosphere coats a story about loss, family, and art in one of the most unique styles of any animated film of the decade. It’s a beautiful journey with one of Pixar’s strongest endings that served as a reminder of Pixar’s best in a decade that desperately needed it.
#11: Inside Out (2015) - dir. Pete Docter
The first film on the list from Pixar veteran Pete Docter lands at just outside of the top 10, which certainly says a lot about the quality of his films. Inside Out is the weakest of Docter’s contributions to Pixar, and it’s still one of the greatest animated movies ever made. In classic Docter fashion, Inside Out takes a wildly creative concept and hones in on the emotion underneath, quite literally in this film. The realization of the mind of 11-year-old Riley is brimming with beauty and imagination. Each new set piece brings new ideas and more importantly a furthering of mature themes. Inside Out demonstrates Docter’s best attributes in the most brazen way, having Pixar’s most overtly sentimental filmmaker anthropomorphize emotions, and it’s unquestionably one of the studio’s masterpieces.
#10: Soul (2020) - dir. Pete Docter
Soul to me feels like the end of an era for Pixar. Soul is undoubtedly Pixar’s most mature film, and it seems more in line with Pixar’s golden age of 2003-2010. Soul is a quiet film that focuses on minutiae while still demonstrating Pixar’s ability to take huge story risks. It rarely falters in its runtime and acts as a wonderful summation of the best parts of Pixar. Some of the best animation, storytelling, and character writing the studio has ever done that feels both modern and classic. Pixar won’t ever make another film like Soul, and that’s ok, it doesn’t have to. Soul closed the chapter on classic Pixar and handed the reins over to Luca to move the studio into a brand new, exciting era. And as far as swan songs go, it’s hard to beat Soul.
#9: Up (2009) - dir. Pete Docter
Many view Up as a film that peaks early and fizzles out, I couldn’t disagree more. The opening montage is as brilliant as it is devastating, but the power of Up is how its themes never once falter throughout its entire runtime. It’s an adventure film with dozens of emotional moments perfectly balanced throughout. Each beat hits and the complex relationships between characters keep the film moving. Up keeps me on the edge of my seat with exciting action and even more compelling emotional moments, a balance that Pete Docter has perfected. While Up’s opening montage is effective, it doesn’t overshadow the masterpiece of a film that follows.
#8: Toy Story (1995) - dir. John Lasseter
The one that started it all has shown some wear and tear in the animation department, but other than that, it remains flawless. Toy Story was a monumental leap in cinematic technology and one of the most important films of all time for its advancements in animation, but that’s not the reason for its lasting impact. Toy Story is a brilliantly written film with a razor-sharp screenplay and mature themes that remain relevant almost 30 years on. Toy Story remains as one of the best screenplays of all time, and while the visuals have certainly aged, Toy Story’s quality hasn’t dimmed one bit.
#7: Toy Story 2 (1999) - dir. John Lasseter
Toy Story 2 just barely edges out its predecessor. While Toy Story served as a brilliant introduction to a fascinating world, Toy Story 2 is the exploration of that world. New characters and settings serve as fantastic world-building, but also complement the film’s more mature storytelling. As Toy Story 2 makes the world more expansive, it looks further into the psyche of its characters. Toy Story has always been a shockingly mature franchise, and Toy Story 2 is arguably its most mature. Yet, even as it explores such themes, it’s still one of Pixar’s funniest films. A deeply rich mediation on purpose and aging, Toy Story 2 is a perfect sequel and one of Pixar’s most sophisticated films.
#6: The Incredibles (2004) - dir. Brad Bird
Since 2004, Marvel and DC have released a combined total of 83 live action superhero films, and none have come close to Pixar’s The Incredibles. What makes The Incredibles the perfect superhero film is the same thing that makes it a classic Pixar film, it imbues spectacle with depth. The Incredibles’ plot is one filled with action, espionage, and colorful characters, but all that exists to service deeply rich themes. As the mysterious plot unravels, the family dynamics of the Parrs threaten to unravel with it. The dichotomy between these two avenues is what drives The Incredibles and makes it such an earnest film despite its bombastic stakes. In an era where the word “superhero” sends shivers down many a spine, I’m glad to have films like The Incredibles proving that maturity and creativity can still be found within the genre.
#5: Monsters Inc. (2001) - dir. Pete Docter
I would surmise that Pixar’s golden age began in 2003, but Monsters, Inc. was really the one that started it all. Monsters, Inc. is one of Pixar’s most creative endeavors, and in a studio with talking toys and floating houses, that says a lot. The wondrous imaginative mind of Pixar is firing on all cylinders with Monsters, Inc., and it somehow never loses that steam. The further the world reveals itself, the more compelling it becomes. Yet, none of it overshadows the true strength of the film, its characters. The dynamic between Mike and Sully is the best character dynamic out of Pixar, and one of my personal favorite duos in all of film. The interjection of Boo into their relationship makes for a compelling film about love in all forms. Monsters, Inc. is one of Pixar’s sweetest and funniest films, and while it doesn’t make you think like some of the others, it’s unmatched in its emotionality and 22 years on, it hasn’t lost an ounce of power.
#4: Ratatouille (2007) - dir. Brad Bird
Ratatouille is the artisté’s Pixar film. A film about fine dining and the French, but also one of the most authentic examinations of art, animated or otherwise. The story of a rat who wants nothing more to cook is the baseline for a film that delivers so much more. Impeccably detailed animation, gorgeous music, amazing characters, and a story that attacks deep themes with unmatched maturity are what truly define Ratatouille. The third act is one of the best the studio has ever done, and it culminates in an unforgettable monologue about art and criticism. Ratatouille is an ode to all sorts of art that seems to function as a thesis statement for a studio all about untethered creativity.
#3: Toy Story 3 (2010) - dir. Lee Unkrich
While the existence of Toy Story 4 (and soon to be 5) threatens to diminish the impact of Toy Story 3, it still soars as one of the greatest films from the Pixar catalog. Despite 4 and 5’s best efforts, Toy Story 3 is an emotional powerhouse that functions as a wonderful conclusion to the Toy Story franchise. The humor, heart, and existentialism that defined the franchise are all amped up to 11 in Toy Story 3, befitting the new stakes imposed by the conclusive story. Its third act is one of the best in all of film, the emotional damage upon a generation of children speaks for itself. It exists as a conclusion to a beloved franchise as well as a summation of Pixar’s golden age all while possessing its own unique identity, there’s nothing quite like Toy Story 3.
#2: Finding Nemo (2003) - dir. Andrew Stanton
Finding Nemo is Pixar’s greatest adventure. A film with a scale as massive as the ocean where it’s based, and an equal amount of heart. Finding Nemo perfected Pixar’s blockbuster set piece storytelling with dozens of perfectly paced unforgettable moments. Between the sharks, the jellyfish, the trench, the seagulls, the turtles, and countless more, no two people have the same favorite moment. However, the father-son dynamic that fuels the adventure is what truly makes Finding Nemo stand out. Andrew Stanton drew from personal experience when developing the story, and the authenticity shines through. Finding Nemo is a movie that stretches the limits of animated storytelling, and very few have matched it. A movie that transports the viewer to an unforgettable world yet remains a staunchly human tale about love, Finding Nemo stands as one of the finest achievements in animation.
#1. WALL-E (2008) - dir. Andrew Stanton
Wall-E is my pick for not only Pixar’s best, but the best animated movie of all time. As time goes on, Wall-E remains relevant as ever. Its environmental messaging is alarmingly accurate and its future defined by corporate monopolies and pacification isn’t too far off either. However, it’s not just Wall-E’s social commentary that makes it the masterpiece it is, it’s flawless in every other way. Stanton’s penchant for scale reaches an apex in Wall-E as he transports a simple love story across the universe. The lasting power of authentic connection is at the core of the film, and the film’s unique structure helps realize that messaging. As Wall-E goes from earth to space and back again, his character is only defined by his purity and love for EVE. Adorable yet profound, Wall-E and EVE present a love story for the ages. Wall-E is emblematic of everything great about Pixar. It’s a brilliant, emotional, visually stunning journey across vast worlds that seeks to explore universal themes about humanity for adults and children alike. Wall-E is a pristine masterpiece from a studio with many.
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